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Birthdays : Challahbear

Archive for the ‘ Birthdays ’ Category

Kirios’ Birthday Brunch

This year Kirios decided to surprise ME with a fancy meal out for HIS birthday. He refused to tell me where we were going, but told me it was fancy and somewhere I wanted to go. Obviously that meant it would be somewhere expensive… I was hoping that Kirios had scored coveted reservations to Rasika, the highly regarded Indian restaurant on the top of my “fancy/expensive places I’d like to go one day” list. (I believe I’ve mentioned that on this blog before). When Kirios asked me for when he should make the reservations, only a week or so prior to his birthday, I knew that wasn’t the case. Oh well, my birthday is only 4 months away! At that point, I had no clue where we were going and the possibilities seemed endless. A few days before, Kirios blocked off about an hour to travel to our restaurant on our calendar – this didn’t limit things too much, since Metro is quite unreliable over the weekends. But when Kirios said we wouldn’t be metroing into DC I had another guess as to where we’d be going.

Two days before our birthday date, Kirios said we needed to pick up a bottle of wine for his friend/colleague and his wife because we’d be visiting them in Frederick, MD after our meal – confirming my suspicions that we were headed to Volt. Volt is a fine-dining farm to table restaurant owned by its head chef Bryan Voltaggio. Bryan was the runner up on season six of Top Chef, my guilty TV watching pleasure. Bryan’s younger brother Michael beat him out to claim the Top Chef title that season in an exciting battle showcasing their differing culinary strengths. Obviously I’ve wanted to go to Volt ever since, but it had been extremely difficult to get a reservation for some time after all the TV hype, not to mention the $95 price tag for their seven course kitchen menu. Yes, even the vegetarian food is $95 per person. Luckily, Kirios made brunch reservations, allowing us to order from the much more reasonable $35 pre fixe menu.

Kirios and I arrived in Frederick early, anxious for our reservations. We walked around Market Street, downtown Frederick’s main drag, peering into the cute storefronts. Since it was significantly colder weather that day, we stopped in Café Nola, a coffeehouse/restaurant/bar, for a warm beverage. The café had a bustling brunch crowd of its own and looked like a nice spot to catch live music in the evenings. We split a soy “Ninja Turtle;” a latte with hazelnut, caramel, and chocolate. We were in an indulgent mood.

We walked back to Volt and admired its garden as we walked in. If only it were warmer out… Our table wasn’t ready yet, so we sat at the bar by in Lounge and ordered cocktails. Kirios probably ordered something strong and manly. I got a drink called “Airmail,” since, you know, I work for the Postal Service. It was flavorful, bubbly, and served in a champagne glass. We were seated by the window and given bread sticks with sea salt to munch on while we looked over the menu. After much deliberation we ordered. A waitress came around with a bread basket for us to pick a roll from. There were several which looked tasty, some with fresh herbs. Since it was brunch, I opted for a biscuit. Kirios had a sticky bun with pecans. Perhaps our biggest complaint of the whole meal was that the bread (and later the donuts) weren’t warm when served to us. They did however come with deliciously flavored butter. I don’t usually butter my bread but Kirios insisted I try it. Unfortunately, I can’t remember what flavor it was, perhaps lavender.

My first course was ravioli with sweet corn, green garlic, and chanterelle mushrooms. There was foam on the side of the plate – I wasn’t sure which ingredient was foamed, but it tasted good with everything else on the plate. It reminded me of Marcel, and old Top Chef cheftestant known for being unable to resist foaming at least on ingredient on every dish he served. Overall, the ravioli was tasty, but left me wanting more food. Kirios’ first course was salsify with apple, country ham, and hazelnut. I won’t pretend that we weren’t expecting some salsa-like dish, but we soon learned that salsify is in fact an edible root. Kirios went with it and dug in. Also served with our first course was an a la cart item Kirios ordered – maple glazed bacon donuts. Since they had bacon, I didn’t try any, but Kirios insisted they were the best donuts he’d ever have. (But should have been warm) He saved one to enjoy with each of his courses and was a happy birthday boy.

My entrée was rockfish with artichoke, maroon carrot, fennel, and basil. I was surprised and excited that rockfish, a local treasure, was featured on the menu. And it was cooked perfectly. The vegetables were simple, not to over shine the fish, simmering in broth next to the fish. The portion wasn’t large, but it was adequate for a fancy restaurant. Kirios ordered rabbit (which made me a little sad, since they’ve always been my favorite animals and I used to sleep with a bunny puppet/security blanket). His rabbit was served with maitake mushrooms, english peas, green garlic, and pearl onions. Kirios loved the mushrooms and claimed the onions were the best he’d ever had. (Kirios is not an onion fan, and the onions weren’t listed as an ingredient when he ordered the dish.) Unfortunately he was unimpressed with the rabbit itself which evidently just tasted like chicken.

I would feel bad for Kirios being let down by the rabbit dish, but he had another maple bacon donut and perked back up quickly. Before our last course, a waiter brought out a dish of orange flavored liquid nitrogen ice cream and orange dark chocolate shavings with a candle to wish him a happy birthday. Interestingly enough, this is exactly the flavors and type of dessert I’ve enjoyed with Kirios and his dad in the past, just a bit fancier. I knew he was enjoying it.

Finally it was time for our last course. We shared one cheese plate and one sweet dessert. The cheese plate featured five domestically produced cheeses; one cheddar, one Parmesan style, one blue cheese, one Camembert style, and one brie style. The cheeses were served with walnut raisin toast. Our sweet dessert dish was raspberry sorbet and fresh raspberries with vanilla ice cream, frozen shortbread, and basil granite. It was quite tasty. Kirios had a double espresso to finish the meal, and added the final crumbs from his maple bacon glazed donuts to his cup. Our check came out with mini coffee cakes packaged up to go – a perfect tea time snack.

Kirios and I walked .2 miles from the restaurant to visit our friends. We shared the coffee cake with them – I had a slice. I didn’t eat for the rest of the day.

Happy 26th birthday, Kirios! Here’s to many more tasty birthday celebrations!

Things are shaping up around here… Spring has sprung and my apartment building finally turned on the AC after a couple of unpleasant days reaching the 80s and even one in the 90s. Even better than that, I got some good news that one of the issues which have been stressing me out won’t be a consideration much longer. It gives me hope, and I’ve been calmer and more optimistic.

This past weekend was quite enjoyable. Kirios and I went to an interesting Shabbat dinner party on Friday where we were able to get to know some new people and enjoy my yummy challah. (I missed it so much over Passover!) Saturday we went to the Maryland Day at our alma mater and met up with some friends. It was lovely to be back on campus and remember how great school was. It’s even better now that I get to spend time on campus with Kirios too!

After Maryland Day, we had dinner with Kirios’ parents before driving out to Virginia for our friend’s *gasp* 30th birthday. That was a first. Luckily, our forever young friend planned an awesome laser tag party. We were originally thinking a moon bounce would be the best way to celebrate and heartbroken to learn that her alley just isn’t big enough for one, but it ended up being a rainy day, so laser tag was definitely the way to go! Unfortunately, my laser tag skills haven’t improved much since my middle school days at FunFest. It was also unfortunate that Kirios walked into a wall and got a booboo while playing. But rest assured, everyone had fun anyway. After laser tag, we headed into the District for drinks and 90s music. The birthday girl even played pac-man.

Following a successful Saturday, Sunday was posibbly the most relaxing and refreshing day I’ve had in months. Kirios and I slept in after our late night. He prepared yummy tropical bowls of cereal for us – with bananas, mango, kiwi, grapes, and pineapple in them! In the afternoon, we met friends and carpooled into DC to attend a young professionals’ barbeque at my synagogue to celebrate Yom Haatzmaut, Israeli Independence Day, which was earlier last week. More of our friends met us at the synagogue, and we enjoyed beer, chicken and beef souvlaki (since Kirios refuses to recognize “shish-kabobs” as an acceptable description of skewered meat), hummus, tahini, babaganoush, and Israeli salad! We sat at a table outside, where it was in the mid-60s, but sunny enough I didn’t wear my sweater.  It was the first barbeque of the season, and such a treat to take a few hours to relax and catch up with good friends. I know I don’t take enough time to relax and keep still. Being able to do that, while still being out with friends was the perfect Sunday afternoon activity!

I’ve had a busy week so far. Work meetings and doctor appointments have filled my calendar, and there’s still a lot of excitement planned for both this week and next. I’ll try my best to hold on to that calm relaxed optimism as events unfold!

I hit my first quarter-century mark the other week. I think it was my first birthday when I wasn’t thrilled to be a year older. But I celebrated nonetheless. Kirios and I went out for a trendy yet romantic dinner at Founding Farmers, and of course I couldn’t resist the temptation to throw yet another theme party. So in approximately 6 months when Kirios catches up uploading photos from his dSLR, you all can see what an awesome Pebbles and BamBam we make.

Last weekend Kirios and I opened the cheese he brought me on Valentines Day (well I had already broken into the smokedgouda, I admit) and I realized he sneakily broke our Vday no chocolate pact AGAIN. He purchased Trader Joe’s cheese of the month, which mixed milk chocolate with sharp white cheddar. It was… interesting. I think I actually like it more than Kirios, who was hoping for dark chocolate.  I didn’t think it was too bad upon first taste, but it actually was worse when I ate it on top of a Ritz cracker. And unlike most cheeses I’m apprehensive to try, it didn’t grow on me with consecutive bites. It definitely tasted like it should be marketed as a snack to put in your kids school lunches. It was definitely edible, but I suppose it makes me appreciate even more what Mr. Reese has known for so so long, nothing goes together quite like chocolate and peanut butter.

Other than tasting cheese, Kirios and I set out to cook some healthy meals for ourselves this weekend, so we cooked salmon, couscous, and broccoli on Saturday, and gemistas, Greek stuffed peppers on Sunday. And now that it’s Wednesday already, I’m wishing I had the time/motivation to continue the trend, but I think I may have to last on leftovers for a few more days.

Sunday afternoon my cousin Jessica visited from New York, and with Kirios we made a ton of delicious hamentaschen to get excited for Purim. We filled the triangular treats with strawberry jam, peach-mango preserves, nutella, and chocolate-peanut butter spread, and baked them on a cookie sheet that used to be our Grandma Ruth’s. And as it turns out, last Sunday was Grandma Ruth’s 12th yartzeit, the anniversary of her passing on the Hebrew calendar. I can’t think of a better way to have honored her memory on that day.

Come Together

While middle school is far behind me, I must admit, I have a bit of a clique issue. Many of my greatest friends from college are, well, a bit cliquey. They are all awesome people, which is in fact why I am friends with them. Individually, they are all nice outgoing people who are happy to hang out with a new face. But sometimes something happens when you get a few of us together in the same room. It’s as if they (we?) are so content talking amongst themselves that they see no reason to meet anyone else who may be at the same event.

The cliquey-ness is not a new diagnosis. It was already a well-known subject when we were in school. I had been close friends with a few of them since the very start of freshman year, but it took me about a semester to gain full membership status with everyone when I started hanging with the whole crew junior year.

Since graduating from college, we’ve all dispersed a bit – we have a friend who sails around the world working on a cruise ship, one who moved to Guam, and even a Marine Corps Officer who recently returned from Afghanistan. But there are still a bunch of us in the Greater DC area and when it comes time to throw a party, such as the one Kirios and I hosted for his birthday the other week, they all do their best to show up. And then the party splits in half; there’s them, and who ever else shows up – usually a hodgepodge of folks I’ve met since graduating, a few people I knew from before school that have wound up in the area, a coworker here and there, and now of course the friends I’ve made through Kirios. Some of the hodgepodgers know each other already, but regardless, they usually all meet and mingle.

This past weekend I attended a birthday party for my friend Rachel who I met through Kirios. It was a similar situation – a Sunday afternoon affair with an incredibly long window for people to show up. (There was less of an emphasis on drinks though, since no one had off this past Monday.)  Rachel and Kirios went to high school together and have remained good friends. Since I came into the picture, Rachel and I have become good friends as well, so I didn’t hesitate to attend her party solo with Kirios out of town for the weekend. At the party, other than the birthday hostess, there were a couple people I had met multiple times and even invited to past parties that I had hosted. There were also a bunch of people I had only met once or twice, at other events Rachel threw. One such acquaintance said to me, “How have you been? I haven’t seen you in forever! …It must have been… Rachel’s birthday last year already?!?” Of course, there were also a couple people I had never seen before in my life, but no matter. We all got together for a large game of Apples to Apples and were enjoying each others’ company. When that broke up, I talked to people about their jobs, relationships, and hobbies. (And of course their ever important sports-team alliances – it was a Sunday so I was naturally rocking my Hines Ward jersey.) At one point in the early evening I taught a bunch of people how to play Trivial Pursuit, and by the time I left to meet up with another friend for dinner, every one at the party hugged, waved, and/or wished me goodbye.

When I met up with my other friend for dinner, I told her how nice everyone had been at the party. Being one of my typical “hodgepodger” guests, we couldn’t help but compare with the party for Kirios’ birthday the week before. My friend suggested that I encourage everyone to play a game at a future party in order to promote more interaction, as we had at Rachel’s. In the past, I’ve always enjoyed a good game of Taboo or my Pittsburgh crew’s favorite, Time’s Up! But I typically try to go with the flow when I host parties, lest I overwhelm myself. (which I do quite frequently) So I have to wonder, what’s the secret to throwing a great party? Is it necessary to bring everyone together, or should you let it be – if those who want to meet and mingle are doing so, and old friends are having a nice time catching up amongst themselves, who am I to intervene? And if I do want to encourage people to forge new friendships, are games the best way to do it?

Kirios’ Birthday Dinner

It’s already been a week, but I would be remiss if I did not take a moment to discuss the wonderful dinner Kirios and I had at Zaytinya in Chinatown last week in honor of his birthday. Zaytinya is Kirios’ favorite restaurant, though he had only been twice before. They serve Greek, Turkish, and Lebanese food mezze style (the Mediterranean equivalent of tapas – small plates) which of course features flavors near and dear to his heart since he is Greek. I had never been to Zaytinya before, but have wanted to try it for quite some time. Zaytinya is owned by José Andrés, who is quite the chef and restaurateur. His Think Food Group’s restaurant include the popular Jaleo (with locations in DC, Bethesda, & CrystalCity), and Oyamel – which Kirios and I enjoyed this summer when my New York cousins came to visit.

I was also eager to try Zaytinya because its former executive chef Mike Isabella was a contestant on both Top Chef Season 6 (Las Vegas) and the runner-up during the show’s All-Star season which aired most recently. Top Chef is one of my favorite TV shows, and I have many memories gathering with great friends to watch it in college. Including watching when Mike Isabella got kicked off for a poor vegetarian dish – which embarrassed him terribly because Zaytinya (which he was still the executive chef for at the time) is known for their delicious vegetarian-friendly offerings.

Now, something you should know about me is that I keep kosher – meaning I only eat meat that has been certified kosher via rabbinic supervision. And I don’t eat any pork or shellfish, nor do I mix meat and dairy. While I enjoy and frequently eat meat (beef and lamb) and poultry, I will only order it at a restaurant that is kosher, and most aren’t. So for all intensive purposes, when I eat out, I’m a vegetarian. Kirios is very understanding of this, and frequently orders kosher-friendly meals when we go out to eat so we can share or I can at least taste his food. This is especially the case when we go out to fancier restaurants. That being said, he was raised to appreciate several inherently non-kosher food items and they rank among his most favorite meals. When we go out to eat, I don’t discourage him from ordering the ever popular bacon cheeseburger – after all, I’m sure as hell not going to make him one.

I’ve already mentioned that Zaytinya is Kirios’ favorite restaurant. His favorite dish there is the Garides Me Anitho, sautéed shrimp with dill, shallots, mustard, and lemon juice. He loves this dish so much, he could not imagine going there and not ordering it, and since he likes to order things he can share with me, he had never agreed to take me to Zaytinya before. When it we began planning for his birthday, I insisted. I told him he should order whatever he wanted – after all, it’s his day, and that I would take care of myself and order dishes he could try in large enough quantities to satiate me. He accepted, so I guess that did the trick. 😉

Our meal started freshly baked pita served with an olive oil dip which included pomegranate molasses. The piping hot pitas continued to be replenished throughout the evening. Kirios and I decided to skip drinks that evening and focus on food. So in addition to his shrimp dish, Kirios also ordered Loukaniko Me Aginares, grilled Greek pork sausage with marinated artichokes and roasted peppers; and a special – Lamb Afelia, based off a traditional Cypriot dish usually prepared with work. He enjoyed all of his food, but the shrimp is still his favorite by far.

I ordered the Santorini Fava & Squash Soup, a “puree of yellow split peas and butternut squash, sultans, [and] beech mushrooms.” The Turkish raisins were surprisingly pleasant in the hearty dish.  I also enjoyed Kolokithokeftedes, zucchini and cheese patties served over a caper-yogurt sauce, and Crispy Brussel Afelia – wonderfully crisped brussel sprouts topped with coriander seed, barberries and a rich garlic yogurt. Despite Mario’s amply sized “tastes” of my dishes, I struggled to finish all of the food. The brussel sprouts were my favorite, but garlic yogurt made the dish quite heavier than I expected.

When Kirios and I finished all of our mezze plates, we were surprised that we had only been seated for 45 minutes. In fact, we realized, we were enjoying our food so much we had ceased all conversation that didn’t focus on the food itself. We were already so full when the waiter handed us the dessert menu, but we weren’t willing to throw in the towel just yet. In May, we had the opportunity to taste an apricot pistachio tapioca dessert that Zaytinya was passing out at the Greek Embassy during the EU Open House day and let’s just say it was good enough we got back in-line. So we took advantage of the small-plate approach and shared a mezze portion (read: half portion) of the Turkish chocolate coffee cake. Along with the Turkish coffee Kirios ordered, it was the perfect end to a delicious meal. And as an extra bonus, we finished early enough to stop into the National Portrait Gallery across the street see some great art and take a couple of pictures in its beautiful courtyard before driving home.

Happy Birthday, Kirios!

Sunday Party

Last Sunday we hosted a party in honor of Kirios’ quarter-century birthday. Kirios really wanted a Saturday night party, with hopes that things would get so crazy I’d kick everyone out of my apartment and lead the procession straight to the bar for debauchery and dancing. Unfortunately for him, the Saturday preceding his birthday was Yom Kippur, and I wasn’t exactly up for throwing (or even attending) that sort of shindig after spending the previous 24 hours fasting. Many of our friends spent that day fasting as well, and did I mention I was invited to four break-fasts? We decided that this Saturday (today) night would suffice to throw a party, but then Kirios’ parents announced that they would be taking him to New York to see his yiayia (grandmother) and aunts this weekend. And that left us with a Sunday affair.

Now, Sunday afternoon and evening is a fine time to get together with friends, and the fact that Kirios, myself, and many others were off of work for Columbus Day this past Monday only improved the situation. But hosting the Sunday afternoon/evening party is a whole different beast than a Saturday night rager. First there’s the time frame – when do you invite people to come? We decided that 4pm would be a fine start time – that way we wouldn’t have to rush to get ready in the morning — especially helpful since I was in Baltimore observing the holiday on Saturday, and didn’t have time to prepare at all – but still early enough that anyone who did have to wake up early for work on Monday would still be able to stop by for a while. Still wanting it to feel like a late night party with potential for a bit of craziness, Kirios set the end time at 11:30. He then went back and changed it to 3:00am without telling me. Men!

Then we had to decide what to do about food – right smack in the middle of our party time frame is a little thing I like to call dinner. But we have to make some compromises, it’s just not practical to invite everyone you want, supply drinks, and supply a full meal. So we decided that we’d purchase more substantial snacks, but not a full-out dinner, and hoped for the best. We had the typical chips and dip and assorted sweets, all trumped by the gooey delicious Monkey Bread Kirios’ dad baked in lieu of a traditional birthday cake. We also make a trip out to Costco and purchased frozen spanikopita and mozzarella sticks.

The final important decision in planning Kirios’ party was deciding on a theme. Kirios thought “birthday party” counted as a theme. Booooring! I love throwing a good theme party. It gives people something to get excited about, a chance to think about the party in advance as they plan their outfit, and something to differentiate it from all the other parties they attend. And if you’re just not that into the theme, I’m not going to be turning people away. Party City trips bring me great happiness, and over the years I’ve managed to collect quite a few pieces of flair to pull out depending on the theme du jour. In the end, the choice was simple for Kirios – I love theme parties. He loves me. Thus when we throw a theme party and everybody wins.

My former roommate and her hubby came over for dinner a couple of weeks earlier and came up with the winning theme – plaid, in honor of Kirios’ massive collection of plaid shorts. Kirios spends nine months out of the year wearing plaid shorts, a t-shirt, and brown flip-flops. He even has a plaid bracelet. He gets teased for it frequently, and in time, I’ve come to appreciate it along with his other quirky traits. Funny thing though, I didn’t own a single piece of plaid other than some old pajama pants from high school. So Kirios and I hit up the mall one night before the party. (I wanted to find him a birthday present; he insisted we spend the whole night picking out plaid for me…) Apparently, plaid is quite the fad these days. Hipsters have paired their plaid button-downs with skinny jeans and thick black glasses and made it theirs. Thus, finding plaid was no problem for me or the majority of our guests.

So with all of this planning, how did the party pan out? Our first guests arrived around 4:30, our last guest left at 1am. The number of guests probably peaked around 7 or 8pm. But there was some confusion about when the best time to show up was – in fact, after texting several times to gauge how the party was going, Kirios’ best bud finally made it out around 7:30, when others were already winding down. We decided the window was a bit too big for sustained party strength overall.

The Costco snacks were a real party pleaser – I have never seen a plate empty so quickly as when those mozzarella sticks came out of the oven, and a ridiculous 2 lbs. of guacamole was consumed. But despite our guests’ healthy appetites, we still have half a package (44! mozzarella sticks), sitting in my freezer. And plenty of spanikopita, chips, and other treat as well. Not to mention abundant amounts of beer and liquor. I guess you could say my kitchen has the ultimate bachelor pad stock up these days…. And one thing’s for sure – in order to clear it all out, I’m just going to have to throw another party!

Kirios’ birthday is this coming Monday, and I have absolutely no idea what to get him. Picking presents for Kirios is always an upwards battle. For starters, my family has never been big on presents. My parents generally considered whatever major purchase of the year to cover all of their bases. You need a new camera in July? Happy birthday (in February)/happy Channukah/congrats on graduating. All obligations fulfilled. A trip to Israel for the summer? That covers two years of presents. I’m not complaining – but we just never stayed up at night planning that super special personal gift for each other.

Then there’s the fact that Kirios doesn’t really need anything — he lives with his parents so he has no need for home goods. He already has all sorts of electronic gadgets, and lenses and accessories for his favorite toy, his dSLR are definitely out of my budget. Kirios is very particular about his wardrobe and collection of man jewelry, and he prefers tangible gifts as opposed to show tickets and fun excursions. (which I’m sure he realizes we would partake in anyway) In desperation, I’m planning to take him to the mall and have him pick something out to be my present – he’ll like it, and I won’t have to spend any more time stressing over finding the perfect gift.

Little presents are fine. I have no problem picking out “happy Tuesday, I was thinking of you” gifts. When Kirios and I first started dating, I was training for a half-marathon and always tired, so he would bring me cans of diet Dr. Pepper to help me get my caffeine kick. When he was out of the country last fall and I was shmying the aisles of Target with a friend, buying him the “I’m a Pepper” vintage tee on display was a no-brainer. Buying him a small toy LLV (Long Life Vehicle – the trucks letter carriers drive when delivering mail) made it easy for him to think of his little Postal Worker girlfriend. But birthdays, Christmas, anniversaries?!? That’s a whole different story, after almost a year and a half, every major gift-giving occasion still causes me trouble.

I do find some solace in knowing that I’m not alone. A best friend called me in a frenzy more than a month before her boyfriend’s birthday last year feeling the same way I do. “He’s picky,” she said. “I can’t just pick out clothes for him, he won’t wear them.” In another case, a coworker of mine had just started dating a new guy a couple of weeks before her birthday. He gifted her with a $200 piece of jewelry. After another month, it was her turn to give a birthday gift. Their relationship wasn’t serious, but he had already set the bar pretty high. And to make matters worse, her budget couldn’t exactly support his luxurious tastes. “It would be easier to just break up with him now rather than figure out what to get him,” she lamented.

So please, can somebody help me out here? I’ve already given him shirts, ties, cuff links, a watch, etc.. I even put together a create-your-own Monopoly board with pictures of us. I’ve read all of the Amazon gift recommendation lists, and countless others. So please, help a girl out here! Any showstopper gifts perfect for surprising a significant other?